Mind Over Ship melds Stephenson's nanotechnology and Gibson's cyberpunk

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

David Marusek's Mind Over Ship is a direct sequel to his fine 2005 novel Counting Heads. But first, you have to get past the titles to these books.

Counting Heads is dumb but explainable, but I have no idea what Mind Over Ship means. If not for the memorable titles of Marusek's short fiction—"The Wedding Album" and "We Were Out of Our Minds With Joy" are perfect—I would suspect Marusek has some sort of appellative dysfunction.

But the novels themselves are everything you could want in compelling hard science fiction. Marusek has created a high-tech 22nd-century world that is plagued by ubiquitous nanotechnology of the type we first saw in Neal Stephenson's groundbreaking 1990s novels Snow Crash and Diamond Age, with equally fascinating advances in biotechnology and cybernetic virtual reality. He adds some nice aspects of William Gibson's 1980s cyberpunk classics, where government authority is marginalized and large businesses control the world, and Bruce Sterling's novels of the 1990s where individuals prosper by forming business-oriented families.

Marusek's work differs from most cutting-edge hard SF being character-driven. There's a diverse set of likable protagonists worthy of Elizabeth Moon. There're numerous and interesting antagonists whose affluence and avarice have compromised their moral and ethical integrity. Plus a wide array of manufactured human clones and artificial intelligences. There's even a Heinleinian Competent Man (or in this case Competent Woman). Marusek keeps it all compelling with a perfectly paced narrative of conflict and resolution that begins immediately following the first novel and leaves enough questions unanswered to create anticipation for the inevitable next one. You will definitely want to meet the Donalds again...

All of this complexity could have resulted in an imponderable book. But the complexity of Mind Over Ship is attenuated by the clarity of Marusek's prose and vision. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend that you read Counting Heads first to gain full appreciation of this second novel.

And let's hope that we don't have to wait three more years for the next book in the series.